Collared Lemming (Dicrostonyx torquatus)
The collared lemming is one of the most interesting Arctic animals because of how it has adapted to the cold Arctic temperatures. It is not a "true" lemming although it is closely related to the lemming. It is a small rodent that burrows under the snow or ground making extensive runways and nesting areas. The collared lemming grows enlarged claws on the third and fourth 'fingers' of its front feet.
Characteristics and Physical Features of the Collared Lemming
Length: 4 and three-quarters inches or 120 mm.
Distinguishing Characteristics: The lemming has smaller ears and tails than other rodents. The collared lemming is the only true rodent that turns white in the winter.
Breeding: Mating may occur as early as January, but usually takes place from March to September. During the height of the summer breeding season all females are pregnant. Each female may have up to 3 litters a year with an average of 4 and one half young per litter. Baby lemmings are born under the snow and drink their mother's milk to survive. Few lemmings live over a year.
Range: Only in the Arctic tundra. During the summer collared lemmings live on the high, dry areas of the tundra. They burrow under the rocks. During the winter the collared lemmings move to lower meadows where there is more snow.
Diet: In summer their main foods are tender shoots of grasses and shrubs. During the winter they eat bark and twigs off willow and dwarf birch.
What do lemmings use to make their nests?
They line their nests with dry grasses, feathers, and muskox fur. In winter the collared lemming builds its nest on the tundra surface, or under the snow, and sometimes even in the middle of snow-banks.
What do the collared lemmings use their enlarged front claws for?
The claws are used to dig through the arctic wind packed snow. The claws are slowly worn away, and by spring all their claws have the same shape.
Why do collared lemmings have small ears and tails?
Less surface area reduces heat loss. That means there is less skin area for heat to escape from. Rodents in desert areas have larger ears for more surface area in order to keep cool.
How does the amount of plants affect the lemmings?
The number of lemmings shrinks and grows depending on how much food (plants) is available.
How quickly do lemmings multiply?
A pair of lemmings can have 10 babies in a litter. A month after the young are born they are ready to mate. They can have up to 3 litters a year. If all the young live and breed then there may be 10 times 10 by the next month! This is why the collared lemming is so important as a food source in the Arctic.
What keeps the lemmings from taking over the world?
Predators, diseases and lack of plant food all work to keep the lemming population in check.
How do the arctic people benefit from the collared lemming?
The winter fur of the collared lemming is used by Eskimos to trim garments and to make doll clothing.
Written by Caleb